Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Margaret Sanger – pro-life icon?

On this 41st (or, for that matter, any) anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that stripped states of regulating most abortions, people tend to hyperventilate.

Of course, one particular woman stands out as a villain – the late Margaret Sanger, founder of what’s known today as Planned Parenthood, which I understand is the largest abortion provider in the country. Four years ago a pastor preached a message that she was a racist baby-killer who sympathized with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany.

I decided to check her out – and do you know what? Nothing could be farther from the truth; she simply wasn’t the monster she’s been made out to be.

Next thing you’re going to tell me is that she was against abortion, you might say.

And you’d be right – because, it turns out, she was.

(You don’t have to take my word for it; just check out her Wikipedia entry. It’s all there.)

Sanger was a public health nurse in New York City in the early 20th Century and witnessed first-hand the squalid and overcrowded conditions in which many of her clients lived – she noted that many of their children didn’t survive infancy or toddlerhood. Perhaps for this reason she came up with the idea that they needed to find a way to limit the number of children. But for her, the “disgrace to civilization” that she called abortion, which in her day was illegal though common, and infanticide just weren’t options.

Was she a eugenicist? Sure, but so were a lot of people in that day, and she didn’t believe in eugenics as policy – it was always, always to be carried out voluntarily and, important, never for racial or ethnic reasons. She even expressed horror at the treatment of Jews in Germany at the hands of the Nazis in the early 1940s. (So much for her being a Nazi sympathizer.)

Didn’t she speak to the Ku Klux Klan? Not exactly – to a women’s auxiliary, and according to her autobiography, she was “unnerved” by the experience.

Though I have always opposed abortion, I think this is one situation where those of us who are “pro-life” have allowed our hearts to get ahead of our heads. I don’t pretend to know when or why PP began providing abortion services – Sanger died in 1966, six years before Roe – but demonizing her doesn’t help our cause. I would even think that we might have some things in common.

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